In Saigon there seems to be an unbroken policy for everyday practicalities that every self-respecting citizen naturally follows.
The idea that something ‘doesn’t fit’ or simply won’t work is quite widely regarded to be the effect of not squeezing your intentions into the box required in the correct manner.
Its not the box, its the packer.
When faced with a problem society tends to stop, sigh a bit, fire out a few tonally erratic syllables and wave their arms a couple of times, before calmly changing angle and resuming pushing.
It’s as though drama, though an absolute right, is rationed. Each person has his own carefully measured allowance of excitability which he frequently dips into for very enthusiastic but brief periods of time: everyone is allowed their moment.
But once enjoyed, that moment must give way to an easy acceptance of the fact that life was never meant to be simple. Life just isn’t functional.
This way of thinking has given rise to a truly excellent manner of living for the Saigonese in which nothing is impossible. Things that would normally cause a vast amount of stress and consideration in the west are obvious facts of life here in HCMC, and the creativity that people naturally employ as a result is possibly the reason why I see more smiles here
than in any other city I have ever lived in.
HCMC is a place unto itself, and that’s no more apparent than in their approach to transportation.
1. The two/twenty-five seater
Motorbikes officially seat one, two and maaaaaaybe three people if you’re ok with sitting inside someone’s armpit and teetering constantly on the edge of overbalance, but that is only by official standards.
Here in HCMC the general quota per motorbike can be anything from one very suave looking man in a sexy jacket and dark sunnies, to a hodgepodge of brightly coloured women, men and children squished together in a tower of incredulous impracticality.
1 or 7, the HCMC motorbike is a unique vehicle of one-size-fits-all onto which any number and demographic of individuals can quite feasibly pile, as long as the engine starts and the wheels turn. If it goes, whats the problem?
2. I knew a guy…
Once upon a time, in an era far far away and quite possibly also a land far far away, many Saigonese motorists knew a guy. And that guy sold motorbikes.
As such, the battered old hunk of metal that they drive today is more a relic than a functioning vehicle and should be in a museum or rotting in a field somewhere.
I love these rides – they putter like a 50 year old smoker and leak the most delightfully acrid smoke you could ever imagine. It really adds colour to life…especially since the proud owners who ride them usually take the stance of a mafia don – shoulders hunched, back curved and a menacing snarl on their lips, as if to say ‘I dare you to ask me where I got this babey…I knew a guy’
3. I didn’t know a guy
Most tourists know no guys and as such hop on the back of the first motor taxi they find. Actually I applaud this! What a fine show of assimilation, demonstrating a true application of Saigonese philosophy…they definitely don’t fit, but they keep on ‘squishing’… How so?
Well. Almost every tourist is vastly larger than any spindly old taxi tout, and since almost every taxi tout ‘knew a guy’ and owns a decrepit pile of puttering crap. Therefore it is a very common thing to see a shuddering old scrap of metal, driven by a grinning stick of a man, and carrying an impossibly balloon-like Westerner clinging for dear life and sticking out like a sore thumb!
Nothing shrieks ‘I have no idea what I am doing!’ more than a white man or woman on the back of a moped, clinging to the back, sides, front, the driver, whatever they can reach
and looking intently forward, eyes bulging.
4. The ‘Not-sure’
This is an interesting category. Sometimes, whilst riding my sexy beast of a bicycle along HCMC roads, I come across a vehicle which I just cannot make sense of.
Either it’s a large wheelbarrow thing with half a moped attached to the back, or maybe a bicycle with half a soup stall attached to the front… or perhaps its a tractor, or a large wheely bin, or a 3 wheel motorised something – the options are endless!
Sometimes I wonder if there was once a competition to see who could design the most bizarre mode of transport, and the poor suckers who were left with the duds decided, in true ‘if it doesn’t fit its because you’re not squishing it right’ fashion, to bloody well use it anyway.